LOS ANGELES -- Husbands, if you end up in the doghouse, consider it a promotion.
A third of pet-owning married women said their pets are better listeners than their husbands, according to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll released Wednesday. Eighteen percent of pet-owning married men said their pets are better listeners than their wives.
Christina Holmdahl, 40, talks all the time to her cat, two dogs or three horses—about her husband, naturally.
"Whoever happens to be with me when I’m rambling," said Holmdahl, who’s stationed with her husband at Fort Stewart in Georgia. "A lot of times, I’m just venting about work or complaining about the husband."
She thinks everyone should have a pet to talk to like her horse, Whistle, who’s been with her since she was 19.
"We all say things we don’t mean when we are upset about stuff," she said. "When we have time to talk it out and rationalize it, we can think about it better and we can calm down and see both sides better."
It would be a toss-up whether Bill Rothschild would take a problem to his wife of 19 years or the animal he considers a pet— a palm-sized crayfish named Cray Aiken. His daughter brought it home four years ago at the end of a second grade science project.
Rothschild, 44, of Granite Springs, N.Y., considers Cray a better listener than his wife, "absolutely. She doesn’t listen worth anything." He doesn’t get much feedback from the crustacean, but it’s been a different story over the years with family dogs and cats.
"You definitely feel much more comfortable sharing your problems with them," he said. "A little lick from a big dog can go a long way."
Overall, about one in 10 pet owners said they would talk their troubles over with their pets.
The AP-Petside.com poll also found that most people believe their pets are stable and seldom struggle with depression. Just 5 percent of all pet owners said they had taken an animal to a veterinarian or pet psychologist because it seemed down in the dumps. Even fewer said they’d ever given antidepressants to a pet.
But they weren’t opposed to the idea: 18 percent of those polled said they were at least somewhat likely to take a pet to a vet or pet psychologist if it was dejected.
When pets become the therapists, the dogs have it. Twenty-five percent of dog owners said their canines listened better than a spouse, while only 14 percent of cat owners chose the feline.
Ron Farber, 55, of Hoxie, Kan., said it’s easier to talk to his dog Buddy than his wife because "the dog doesn’t have an opinion."
"I think better out loud. He doesn’t care what you say or do. He looks at you, pays attention, you walk through the problem in your mind and eventually, the answer comes. It’s not as easy when other people are offering opinions," he said.
Farber would take Buddy to a vet if he needed help, but "I doubt there’s a dog psychologist within 300 miles."
A pet psychologist is also called a veterinary behaviorist. Veterinarian Karen Sueda, whose office is at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital is one of 50 certified by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Most of her canine patients have problems with aggression and anxiety, while her cats’ biggest problem is failure to use a litter box, she said.
Karen Manderbachs, 38, has tried drugs for her dog Kensey, a Shiba Inu who is afraid of thunder. "She sits and full body-shakes. She tries to climb the walls, will hide behind the couch. She gets frantic."
But the first time, the pill didn’t take effect in time. The next, "she was so out of it, I couldn’t do it again."
Without thunder, Kensey is fine and listens with the other pets three dogs and a cat—as Manderbachs talks.
The dogs seldom react, "but if I’m upset, if I cry, they will hover around and try, in their own way, to make it better," said the 38-year-old from Rocky Mount, N.C.
Sueda, the veterinary behaviorist, said she thinks everyone talks to their animals.
"Pets are great because they provide us with unconditional support. They never talk back, never give us the wrong opinion and they are always there for us," she said. "As much as we love our spouses or significant others, sometimes they are not there, sometimes they have their own thoughts about how we should deal with situations. And sometimes, especially when it’s a husband or male significant other, they want to solve the problem rather than just listening to the problem."
The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,112 pet owners nationwide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.